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July 10, 2008

Under The Knife

Cooked?

by Will Carroll

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Aaron Harang (7 DXL)
"Tight forearm" sounds kind of innocuous, like "skinned knee" or "bum ankle." Colloquial always sounds better than technical, but sounds better isn't always better. Harang may seem like the prototypical workhorse, but this kind of injury is seldom just nothing. Going through the list of names, there are guys like John Patterson, Josh Johnson, and Shawn Hill who all had this type of forearm stiffness as a precursor to far more serious elbow problems. Sure, there are some like Felix Hernandez, for whom forearm stiffness was nothing more than that, but the list of players is much more negative than I'd expected. Harang's workload isn't tremendous, though he does have a number of starts of more than a 100 pitches, and the occasional period where he seems to lose it for a start or two, and then get it back. This is no different under Dusty Baker than it was in past seasons without him, so eliminating that culprit leaves me taking a hard look at the relief appearance he made at the end of May as a tipping point, despite Baker's protestations against the facts. (Just check his game logs, especially the game scores.) He's 14th on the PAP list, though his stress score of 13 is hardly worrisome, and wouldn't have made the top 50 just five years ago. Harang's velocity and control were off last time out, another big red flag. Harang is heading back for imaging and a visit with Tim Kremchek, and Reds fans may be holding their breath and hoping that Harang will only miss one start or just have a short DL stint. Initial testing makes it seem as if the UCL is intact, so we won't know much until the results are back.

Erik Bedard (15 DXL)
Moving Bedard to the DL really doesn't change anything. It gives the Mariners some roster relief, having played a man down for ten days, but Bedard wasn't going to throw until after the All-Star break anyway. With the retro move, Jim Riggleman will need to re-set his rotation a bit differently after the break. Some might say that it means that the M's can't trade Bedard, but this is one of those urban legends; a player can be traded while on the DL, thought it happens so infrequently that it's understandable that people think it can't be done. There's no change in the status of Bedard's shoulder either, so this move really means... nothing. Bedard is expected to be back in the rotation for what could be the final two starts in his Seattle stay, assuming the soreness is gone by then.

Eric Byrnes (90 DXL)
Speed players and hamstrings are a bad combination, so what does tearing it completely do for Byrnes in the long term? He's out for the season! The question now is whether the three-year deal he signed last season becomes a drag on the young D'backs. I think it does, because there are really no good comps for players having this type of injury and coming back and being productive. Some have, but none have come back to provide the speed/hustle combination that the Shaggy One uses. I'm not convinced that Byrnes without his speed is anything more than a fourth outfielder, and those players shouldn't make $10 million per year. Byrnes' leg isn't so bad that he'll need surgery, though the recovery time is going to be roughly the same. He'll be ready for spring training, but his future depends on adjusting his game.

Mark Mulder (80 DXL)
Does Mulder only lasting sixteen pitches really surprise me? I don't think I'd have predicted this, but I'm not really stunned by the result either. No one who saw Mulder pitch along his rehab path saw anything that gave much hope that he'd be able to pitch effectively. That he came up with "severe pain" so quickly makes me wonder if he was throwing as hard as he could along the way, and that once he did go all out, the shoulder simply gave out. Surprisingly, I heard from a lot of Cubs fans when Mulder went down, all of them worried that Mulder's injury problems are some sort of sign that Billy Beane knew this would happen, and that he's doing the same sort of thing with Rich Harden. If so, I wonder why Beane wouldn't have traded off Eric Chavez or Bobby Crosby before their problems arose. Mulder is just a reminder that injuries can hit the best of pitchers, and that an injury history has to be noted. I think we've seen the last of him on a mound.

Dustin McGowan (80 DXL)
News went from bad to worse for the Jays when McGowan's imaging showed a torn rotator cuff. He's done for the season, leaving him with the question of choosing surgery or rehab, though the team is still officially saying that he could return in a month. That just doesn't happen with this type of injury. If McGowan is able to avoid the operating table, he could be back by next spring, but it's a coin-flip proposition, and there always seems to be some cost. McGowan has had injury troubles previously, making this one of those slow and insidious injuries that remind us that somewhere on the kinetic chain, there's always going to be a weak link. If the Jays weren't there already, McGowan's injury should push them into "next year" mode. We'll have to see if that includes McGowan, who could lose much of 2009 if he needs surgery.

Tom Glavine (60 DXL)
Usually, seeing a pitcher doing some throwing on the side-even light throwing-allows us to learn something. Usually it's just a milestone, telling us how far a guy might be from a return. With Glavine, the throwing he's doing on the side means almost nothing. He won't go full-out until after the All-Star break, and it won't be until he ratchets up to full speed that he'll see whether or not his flexor tendon is going to stay attached. The tendon is frayed at the origin, certainly not an ideal situation. One front-office type I spoke with said that this reminded him of Nolan Ryan, who went the last few years of his career with a damaged UCL, but was effective up until his last pitch, and Glavine may be in the same sinking boat. The difference I see is that Ryan's problem was asymptomatic, while Glavine has had both pain and a loss of command. If he is able to throw full speed, Glavine will need a bit more time to build up some arm strength, so we likely won't see him until August at the earliest.

Vicente Padilla (15 DXL)
I'll admit that I'm a sucker for the "bullpen game." I think it's a brilliant gambit, and would be one of the keys for whatever team is smart enough to go back to the four-man rotation. The Rangers did it out of necessity due to Padilla's neck problem and to the roster crunch that pushed them to decide against bringing up Mike Ballard or Eric Hurley and instead going with Warner Madrigal as the de facto starter. It went according to plan, with Madrigal and Josh Rupe each going three effective innings before going to the "normal" bullpen. After those assignments and with Dustin Nippert's seven-inning stint, the bullpen needed reinforcement, which is what really pushed Padilla to the DL. He'll reappear just after the All-Star break, likely coming off when eligible on the 21st. The neck strain should be cleared up by then, and Padilla can go back to having the offense carry him.

Ryan Spilborghs (30 DXL)
Spilborghs has gone from taking the center field job outright to hitting the DL overnight, leaving the Rockies struggling to fill the position while Willy Taveras deals with a quad injury. Spilborghs' oblique injury is just one of those things that happens, though this is the first oblique strain I can remember occurring on the basepaths. Watching the video, it does look like Spilborgh described it, that he "got shot" somewhere between first and second, which makes me think that this was the point in time where the muscle finally tore, rather than the cause itself. He'll miss roughly a month, though with oblique strains it's hard to tell exactly, and they do tend to recur if players aren't careful. The timing is bad for Spilborghs, who may have lost his chance to lock down the job.

Anibal Sanchez (120 DXL)
The Marlins rotation is starting to look up, and while the team is also still looking up at the Phillies in the standings, the idea that they could stay in contention is looking up as well. With Josh Johnson back from injury and in the rotation, Sanchez might be close behind, which would give Fredi Gonzalez the pitching staff that he really hasn't had since taking over from Joe Girardi. Sanchez is throwing his fastball up into the nineties, and his arm isn't having any recovery issues. He still has some stamina to build up, but he's probably got a couple more weeks' worth of rehab starts, maybe two or three outings, to get up from the four innings he threw for High-A Jupiter to the eighty-plus pitches he'll need to be a credible starter for the big club. Given what he's gone through and how he got there, Sanchez's comeback is going incredibly well. The one question left is how effective his change will be now, something we should have answered as he works on the stamina.

Elijah Dukes (50 DXL)
This isn't so much an injury note as it is just one of those interesting things that come up with some injuries. Dukes was placed on the DL retroactively, a common move, despite the fact that there's no chance that he'll be back when eligible. Reader K.B. asked why this was the case, and I checked with sources who said that the move could have something to do with a possible Dukes setback forcing them to use the 60-day DL, while another thought that it had more to do with Worker's Comp issues than anything baseball-related. In other words, it really doesn't affect much, aside from days on the DL totals, which is perhaps the one thing the Nats might lead the league in this season.

Quick Cuts: The Cubs think Alfonso Soriano will be back in time for their second series after the All-Star break. That's a bit longer than earlier estimates, but well within the normal recovery range. ... The D'backs might use Justin Upton's mild oblique strain to give him a breather and break him out of his slump. A decision will be made on a DL move before the weekend. ... How bad has it become in Houston? When Darin Erstad was said to be getting a bump in playing time, Cecil Cooper told the Houston Chronicle "we're going to go on a performance-based situation. If you play well, you get to play." What the bleep was he basing things off of prior to this?! ... Kaz Matsui came off the DL, but even against a Pirates battery that was beatable, he wasn't running. Expect him to be a bit slow with the steals until after the break. ... Hideki Matsui looks like he'll avoid season-ending surgery, but no one with the Yankees seems very confident. He'll head to Tampa over the break to take things up a level. ... John Maine is saying it's a muscle strain in his forearm, not just a cramp. It looks like he'll start this weekend, though he told the media he'd like to use the All-Star break to buy some extra rest. ... Many are speculating that Victor Martinez will play first base exclusively once he's back from the DL. His time frame should have him back shortly after the break, but there's been no new news I can shake loose. I'm working on it, and hope some of the Cleveland beat writers will ask the question.

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